EC 261 (EU 261) compensation: What you need to know and how I got €600 from British Airways
What is EC261?
From the EU Parliament website: Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 (Text with EEA relevance) – Commission Statement
What does this actually mean?
If your flight flying to (on an EU based airline)/from (on ANY airline)/connecting in the European Union (on ANY airline) is significantly delayed or cancelled, the operating carrier owes you cash.
And to be very clear, you are owed CASH – not a voucher, not miles, not anything other than cold hard cash. Airlines hate paying cash and you may need to stand your ground here. (To be extra clear: I mean they owe you cash after a review of the circumstances by check or bank transfer – not actual cash on the spot at the airport.)
This rule applies to any carrier from any flag. That means all airlines. But the flight must touch EU soil to count. As of now, the UK is still in the EU and the rules do apply to the UK.
What are you owed?
Compensation is determined by how long your flight is and how long you are delayed from arriving at your scheduled destination relative to your original scheduled landing time.
Note: all mileage below is in kilometers (km). If you are US based you can convert in Google using the mileage of your flight. Not sure how long your flight was in miles? Use Milecalc.com and enter your origin and destination airport codes (i.e. JFK and CDG).
On flights under 1,500 km: You are entitled to €250 for a 3 hour + delay
On flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km: You are entitled to €400 for a 3 hour + delay
Over 3,500 km: If the flight is between 3 and 4 hours, you are due €300
Over 3,500km: If the flight is delayed over 4 hours, you are entitled to €600
That last category is where transatlantic flights will fit, so if you were on a transatlantic flight delayed over 4 hours, you are due €600 – or roughly $660.
If you are delayed overnight, they are also responsible for food and lodging (and transit to and from lodging). This can be vouchers or they are within their rights to bus everyone in a plane to the same hotel and provide food there.
Airlines are supposed to notify you of your rights when you have a qualifying delay, but they won’t. So it’s on you to know. If you even found this article, someone had probably whispered something about EC261 in your ear and you Googled it.
Once you know you are eligible, you’ll need to contact the airline and request your compensation. This will NOT happen without you filing a claim.
Each airline has their own method for accepting claims, but the right place to start is generally an online contact form. You can also use Twitter to ask them the best channel for filing for EC261 compensation online.
What happens after you file?
You wait. I find it very odd that the rule is written this way, but they merely need to address your complaint in a reasonable time. When you are waiting for the cash, I guarantee your definition of reasonable will differ from that of the airline. In my case, which I’ll detail below, it only took about 6 weeks. I expect many have it take far longer.
Are there exceptions to EC261?
Yes, if there are reasons beyond the airline’s control such as severe weather, political unrest – things like that. But as an example, a mechanical issue with the aircraft is not considered outside their control and would be due compensation.
I was flying home from a trip to France on Openskies, a subsidiary of British Airways, in their Prem Plus (premium economy) product. Note that your class of service does not factor in to EC261 compensation.
I was advised that the flight had been delayed to the next day, roughly the same time, due to mechanical issues with the aircraft. Even though OpenSkies is part of BA, they do not switch out aircraft. So this mechanical failure had a cascading operational effect.
We arrived to the airport and there was a tremendous queue for rebooking. I tried everything I know from years of playing the miles game. I used ExpertFlyer to find vacant seats on BA (since that was going to be my best shot, already being booked on a BA product). I found seats in Business, which is a class higher than Prem Plus, but usually in irregular operations (IRROPS) the airline will do anything to get people off the ground. But the agent over at the BA counter wouldn’t rebook me and two attempts to the BA call center were useless.
I asked, rather incredulously, if they would prefer to pay the EC261 compensation than just rebook me in empty seats. I got a shrug from the man at the counter and a sorry from the guy on the phone. So resigned ourselves to the delay and eventually got rebooked on a flight 22 hours later instead of 24.
Some of the plane had already been rebooked but options got quickly exhausted and a majority of the plane had to stay the night near Orly airport. We were all put in the same Ibis express style hotel and they only covered your meal if you ate at the assigned time at a provided buffet. That was a bit frustrating to me since it would have meant hanging around the hotel. It technically covered BA for the “meals” though, so I had to live with that and we took off to downtown Paris for supper on our own dime.
We took off as scheduled the next day and on my return home, the first thing I wanted to do was file for the EC261 compensation. I’d long known about it but had never had to file it myself.
On the BA website, you head over to their contact form. I made sure to keep records of all of my flight details (and you will need those – date/flight number/origin/destination, etc) . BA directs you to start with this contact form.
What should you type? I had used the power of the Internet to find some examples of compensation letters. Regrettably by now I’m not sure where this format came from to properly cite it. Please let me know in the comments if you recognize it.
Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing regarding flight BA[redacted] on [date] from Paris Orly to Newark with the scheduled departure time of 17:30 My booking reference is [redacted]. This flight was delayed for 22 hours until the following day. My total arrival delay was xxxxx hours. The passengers in the party were xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I am seeking compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004 for this delayed flight. My scheduled flight length was [insert] km, therefore I am seeking €600 per delayed passenger in my party. The total compensation sought is €1,200. I look forward to hearing from you and would welcome a response within 14 days.
Please be sure to alter to your exact situation.
Once I submitted, I waited. the 14 days came and went. I sent a tweet to BA to ask they confirm it was received. They did confirm receipt but said they could not give a timeline on review. I tweeted at them another 2 weeks later and another two weeks after that. I didn’t like that nobody could provide any information on a timeline, but I expected that would be the case.
But between week 6 and week 7, I got an email from BA stating that they had approved the claim and asked for me to provide banking instructions to them. Even that took a bit of effort because their stock form has fields that US banks don’t use, but they quickly advised the way around that.
All in, in under two months, I had the compensation in my bank account.
I suspect that given the lack of watchdogs on this matter, you often will need to be quite persistent, which may cause some (many?) to give up. There are also services that will do the entire process for you, though you will forfeit up to half of your owed money for them to do the work. Not my style!
Want more info FAQ-style? Chris Elliott’s site also has some good Q&A.